A campaign pushes for first Black woman justice in Brazil's Supreme Court

Posters campaigning for a Black woman in the Supreme Court appeared in 15 Brazilian capitals, with phrases such as “Black wome in power” and “Black woman justice at the Supreme Court for yesterday” | Image: Naetê Andreo/Igniz Filme/Publicity

Brazilians are holding a campaign that already went from New Delhi to Times Square to pressure President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to appoint the first Black woman for a seat at the Supreme Court.

In its 132 years of existence, despite being a country where 56 percent of ithe population identifies as Black or from mixed ethnic ancestry, the court has only had three Black justices, all of them men.

Among the 171 justices in its history, three were women — the first one, Ellen Gracie, was only nominated in 2000.

The next seat is now vacant with the retirement of another woman, Justice Rosa Weber. With her exit at the beginning of October, only one woman is left among the 10 current justices, Carmen Lúcia.

Beyond the gender gap, there is an even deeper racial divide in the system.

A recent poll published by the National Justice Council (CNJ) showed that only 1.7 percent of Brazilian judges identify as Black, and 12.8% identify as mixed ethnicity (pardo, in Portuguese). A crashing majority of 83.8 percent of the judges throughout the country identify as white.

Using hashtags on social media such as #MinistraNegraJá (#BlackWomanJusticeNow) and #PretaMinistra (#BlackWomanJustice), the campaign aims to send e-mails to the federal government as a way of pressuring Lula, a center-left leader, for the fore coming nomination.

Joel Luiz Costa, director at IDPN (Institute for Defense of the Black Population), one of the organizations involved in the campaign, told news outlet G1:

É importante que a gente avance no entendimento de democracia no Brasil. É impossível sustentar que vivemos numa democracia plena quando, a comunidade negra que representa 56% do país e as mulheres negras que representam 28% da população nacional, nunca foram representados por uma mulher negra no Supremo Tribunal Federal, nos seus 132 anos.

It's important that we advance into understanding democracy in Brazil. It's impossible to sustain that we live in a full democracy when, the Black community that represents 56 percent of the country and Black women who are 28 percent of the national population have never been represented by a Black woman at the Federal Supreme Court in its 132 years.

Lula's choice

Back in June when another seat opened, Lula appointed Cristiano Zanin as justice. Zanin, a white man, was the attorney responsible for defending the current president in the Car Wash Operation corruption case.

Lula was sentenced, and imprisoned for over a year, but the ruling was later annulled by the Supreme Court, with the majority of justices affirming that the case shouldn't have advanced in the first instance court it did.

Plus, leaked Telegram messages between the case's judge, Sergio Moro, and prosecutors led the Supreme Court to rule him as biased. The messages were first published by The Intercept Brasil. Moro left his position to become Jair Bolsonaro's Justice minister and is now a federal senator.

Zanin's nomination, with the approval of Bolsonaro's allies in Congress, upset many who supported and voted for Lula in 2022. His first rulings in August followed a conservative tendency — among his votes, he stood against the decriminalization of marijuana for personal use.

That also increased the pressure on Lula to have a more progressive and diverse nomination for this second vacant seat.

Even though the president hasn't spoken publicly about his choice yet, there are no women mentioned among the favorites, according to the Brazilian press coverage at this point.

At the end of September, as the decision nears, Lula said the criteria for his choice would not be based on gender or race and that this shouldn't be questioned anymore. ”I'll choose someone who can understand Brazil's expectations, who can serve Brazil, and respects the Brazilian society,” he declared.

Campaign trail

Comedian Gregorio Duvivier, who supported Lula in the elections but criticized the nomination of Zanin, stressed in his HBO show Greg News the importance of weighing the options.

Duvivier has been attacked for pushing the campaign for a Black woman justice as well, and remembered the list of three candidates indicated by the movement Mulheres Negras Decidem (Black Women Decide), who asked Lula to meet with them for a coffee. The candidates are judge Adriana Cruz, prosecutor Livia Sant'Anna Vaz, and lawyer Soraia Mendes.

Theologist and activist Ronilso Pacheco wrote in an article published by The Intercept Brasil that the discussion is now more about access to positions of power and less about diversity itself, noting that Lula will be remembered for not nominating a Black woman to the Supreme Court.

In the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, columnist Celso Rocha de Barros, author of ”PT, a story” (a book about the history of Lula's party), argues the reason for some leftists avoiding critiques directed at Lula and the current Workers’ Party government might be related to a fear of seeing new anti-PT waves, such as those in protests of 2013. But he stresses that the Black movement demand should still weigh more here:

Simplesmente não há negros suficientes nos círculos jurídicos que os presidentes brasileiros frequentam para que, quando surgir a questão “quem eu posso indicar que seja mais próximo de mim?” o nome de uma negra ou de um negro lhes venha à mente.


Um dos motivos de lutar por representatividade é justamente contrabalançar esses mecanismos em que a sub-representação de hoje gera a sub-representação de amanhã.

There simply aren't enough Black people in the law circles that Brazilian presidents are inserted into so, when the question ”who can I nominate that is close to me?” comes up, the name of a Black man or woman comes to mind.


One of the reasons to fight for representativity is actually to counterbalance those mechanisms in which today’ sub-representation creates tomorrow’ sub-representation.

The campaign's official website also notes:

Ter uma ministra negra progressista no STF é essencial para avançar na necessária transformação do sistema de justiça brasileiro, não só pela importância de ver o povo representado nas esferas de poder, mas por todas as mudanças estruturais na forma como a justiça é aplicada. E não há melhor momento para esse avanço do que em um governo progressista. Mas essa batalha ainda não está ganha.

To have a Black woman justice at the Supreme Court is essential to advance on the much needed transformation of the Brazilian justice system, not only for the importance of seeing the people represented on spheres of power, but for all the structure changes in the way justice is applied. And there is no better moment to advance than when there is a progressive government in place. But this battle is not over.

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